Published: Sept. 19, 2008
Updated: Sept. 22, 2008
Most people know how important calcium is to maintaining bone health, and it’s not hard to get enough of this mineral: by eating adequate amounts of calcium-rich foods, one can get plenty of calcium without even taking a supplement.
Physical therapy researcher Kathy Shipp, PT, MSH, PhD, who serves on the scientific and educational committees of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, says that there are two other bone protectors that need more attention: vitamin D and exercise.
Today’s indoor culture has created an “epidemic of calcium and vitamin D deficiency,” she says, and our sedentary ways are taking a toll on our bones.
This vitamin is important because it helps your body use the calcium it gets. We can manufacture vitamin D in our skin following direct exposure to sunlight -- sun exposure of about 15 to 20 minutes without sunscreen can help most fair-skinned people make the amount they need.
But people with dark complexions, as well as older people whose skin doesn’t manufacture vitamin D as efficiently as younger skin, may need more exposure.
And, in the wintertime, even those of us in the temperate climate of North Carolina aren’t getting enough of the sun’s potent rays to make the adequate levels -- only latitudes of Atlanta and south receive that amount of light.
Because it’s difficult to get the vitamin D you need through sunshine and food sources, says Shipp, just about all of us should take a supplement. This year the national osteoporosis foundation revised its recommendations for vitamin D supplementation to 800 IU for people under 50, and 1,000 IU for those over 50 years old.
People of every age need to stay active for a variety of physical, mental, and emotional health reasons. But Shipp notes that there’s a misconception that aerobic activities like walking are enough activity for bone health.
“Really what’s best for people to prevent fractures and falls is muscle strengthening exercises, which should be practiced two to three times a week.”
To learn more about the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s recommendations for preventing and treating osteoporosis, visit their Web site.